The frustration began mounting early Saturday evening for an Estill Gators offense that has grown accustomed to doing just about whatever it wants, and it showed in the play and body language of star quarterback Xaviar Garvin and filtered down.
The Gators’ dual-threat dynamo was mostly iced by a stout Carvers Bay defense, but even with the X-Factor mostly neutralized, the mantra on the sideline remained the same: We only need one. Defense won’t let ‘em score.
The offense finally got one, and the defense matched it just 75 seconds later, as the Gators were able to grind out a 12-6 home win in the second round of the SCHSL Class 1A playoffs and extend the Estill High School program’s history by at least one more week.
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“I’m super proud of the guys for their effort and tenacity, especially overcoming adversity,” defensive coordinator Roman Singleton said on Lowco Pigskin Live. “They were a little bit annoyed, honestly, about not being able to score. I told them this is what happens when you’re playing championship football. These are the type of games that you start preparing for in the summer with all those hot, slaving type days.”
The Gators and Bears combined for 125 points in their first-round wins, with Estill needing a last-minute kickoff return touchdown from JaMaris Miller to survive a 60-56 scare from Hannah-Pamplico, but this one was all about defense from the start. Carvers Bay got the first big break with a blocked punt, but the Gators’ stingy defense made a stand inside the 10 and neither team threatened again before halftime.
Estill returned from the locker room with a renewed spirit and the defense forced a quick stop to give Garvin and Co. a short field to work with. He finally found lightning on a touchdown pass to Miller, but it was wiped out by a penalty, and they just missed another connection on fourth down when Miller couldn’t hang on inside the 5.
The Bears hit another bingo on Estill’s next offensive series, as tight end Kavon Chisolm stumbled resulting in an easy interception that set Carvers Bay up at the 12-yard line.
Mandrell Garvin came up with back-to-back stops behind the line of scrimmage, roaring into the backfield for a sack on fourth down to deny the Bears and preserve the deadlock.
The Gators finally got their bounce early in the fourth quarter when Chisolm pounced on a fumble to set up the offense at the 33 with 10:14 left. After a long run by Jamil Bobean took it to the 5, the Bears stood up and stopped the Gators three times before Jaron Brown broke through on fourth down to put the first points on the board with 8:47 left.
“Whew,” Singleton said. “Everybody had a sigh of relief at that point. Whew.”
And then a moment of elation.
On the next series, freshman Desmond Mathis picked off Kenneth Bateman and sprinted 27 yards to the end zone to give the Gators a 12-0 lead and send a hungry home crowd into a frenzy.
“He played it perfectly,” Singleton said. “Open hips, great speed turn, sat on the ball, sat on the flag well, and pulled out the interception.”
After another defensive stop, the Gators ran off as much clock as possible before having to punt, and an errant snap gave the Bears a short field, but by the time Tyshaun Grice punched it in to break up the shutout, there were only 40.9 seconds left on the clock and the party had already begun to spin up. When the Gators recovered the onside kick and went into victory formation, it popped off.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” Singleton said. “Our fans come out there, especially when we’re doing our thing.”
The Gators (11-1) be back on the home turf one more time Friday, facing Cross (10-2) with a trip to the Class 1A Lower State championship game on the line. And this last cohort of Estill High School football players isn’t ready to let the tradition die yet.
“They’re some of the greatest kids we’ve ever coached,” Singleton said. “Since middle school, they’ve really been on a mentality of making history. They go into the gym and see all the basketball banners, and they’re the type of kids who would ask, ‘Where are all the football banners?’ I old them, well, we’ve gotta make them. And they said, ‘Don’t worry coach, we’ll get you some banners.’ ”
By Justin Jarrett / LowcoSports@gmail.com
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